Bright Angels and Familiars
by Eugene England, Editor

Chapter 12
Woman Talking to a Cow
Pauline Mortensen

[159] I had to leave Judd and Eileen in the house to come out and carry hay. I had to leave them alone and come out. I know you don’t mean anything by it because you got to eat, too, everybody does. But I’m just saying. Everybody’s got to eat.

And then there’s this here manure fork. See it? Only three tines. You think you got problems. See that? See how it takes me so long? Hay falls right through. Don’t blame me all the leaves knocked off by the time I get here. It’s not my idea of how to do things. And you can just keep your green tongue to yourself.

No, it’s not my idea. What we need is a barley fork. But can we have a barley fork? No-o-o-o. We ain’t good enough. I said to him, “Alton, when we getting back our barley fork? Ain’t we got as much use for it as Harmon and Clive?” And do you think he’d listen? Do you think he’d stand still for me going over there and getting it, when we could use it right here? His head holds onto an idea about as good as this here fork.

Now watch this. See, what did I tell you? But that ain’t the half of it. After this I gotta feed those sheep. “Feed my sheep,” he says just like that and walks out the door like he was Christ himself.

[160] Going into town to make some miracle happen, he is. And Judd and Eileen in the house while I’m out here.

That Eileen better mind what she’s doing, is all I can say, or I’ll blister her good. She can get into more trouble, likes to throw the dishes out of my cupboards, my best dishes, Grandma’s flur-de-lees. She climbs up the front like it was a ladder. Throws them down to show Judd. I could beat her brains out. And Judd just one year old, getting the biggest kick out of that. My best dishes with the gold leaf. She’s a climber, all right. Boy, can she climb. But I’ll blister her good if she does it again. And I will too. I got to do it. She has got to learn.

Don’t you maw me. I’m doing the best I can. All you gotta do is stand there. I have to keep after her. She’s always into something. Like throwing my pictures into the fire. My pictures of down home. Negatives and all. And there them two were sitting in front of the stove watching them pop and crackle. Little shits. I could have skinned her alive for that one. She always goes for exactly what you don’t want her into. She was old enough to know better, too. I wanted to skin her alive.

You think you’re standing in the mud. You don’t know much about Karakul sheep, do you? Them are those black curly sheep over there. Each one worth about ten of you. That’s ’cause they’re special. No everyday sheep for us. No sir. We couldn’t put our farm money into anything like potatoes or sugar beets. He doesn’t listen to me. No, we had to get Karakul sheep. Going to make a killing with those sheep. We made a killing, all right.

Here chew on this. First he gets this special deal on a herd of fifteen sheep. He puts every cent we got into them. I feed them right here one whole winter. Come spring he finds out something. You know what he finds out? The wool on his sheep ain’t no good because they’re mixed breed. And to make any money you have to have pure breed. And we got fifteen sheep of Karakul and something else. But does he give up on the Karakul sheep business? You can bet your cow cud he doesn’t. No. He trades those fifteen sheep down to six. Those right over there. And he called that a deal. Traded the whole herd for six. But they were purebreds. And I was just a woman [161] and couldn’t understand a deal like that, now could I?

Now come spring again, he finds out this: each one of them sheep eats two tons of hay a day for the entire winter, and we can’t sell that wool. That’s right. Do you know why? We can’t sell it because Karakul sheep don’t shear like regular sheep. No. To make them curly black coats for all them women back East, those hundreds and thousands of women dying to buy our wool, you gotta get the wool off of the lambs. That’s the finest quality, the fine black wool before it gets coarse. That’s what you gotta do. Take it off the babies. And that’s what he finds out come spring. And he gives me this here manure fork with only three tines. Move your damned head.

You don’t seem to understand, do you? They make those women’s coats out of their black curly hides. You gotta skin them to get it. And Alton, he don’t find that out until he’s got all the money spent. They don’t want the grown-up coarse wool. They got to skin the lambs. Peel off them hides no bigger than puppies.

But this is the last thing he finds out. Neither one of us has got the stomach for it. Killing the babies. So we got those six sheep over there eating us out of house and home, and we got a fistful of black curly hides drying hard in the barn, and we got two kids in the house breaking everything I got and waiting to be fed, and we haven’t got enough of those black curly hides to make one coat.

And he goes off like that to crack one more deal. Listen here, old gal. You got your nerve to lick my leg and want more hay.You’re the last thing on this farm that’s worth a damn, so you just better look out.